A beloved teacher and coach are being hailed as heroes Thursday after giving their lives to save children during the mass shooting at a South Florida high school.
Geography teacher Scott Beigel and football coach Aaron Feis both put their own safety aside for that of their students when a shooter stormed Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and opened fire with an assault rifle.
“Mr. Beigel was my hero and he still will forever be my hero,” high school freshman Kelsey Friend told CNN on Thursday. “I will never forget the actions that he took for me and for the fellow students of the classroom … I am alive today because of him.”
Friend said she and some classmates left their classroom when they heard the fire alarm go off Wednesday, but turned around when they heard gunfire. Beigel had several students hiding out in his locked classroom, but he unlocked the door to let in Friend and the other students. They made it inside safely but Beigel wound up getting shot and killed by the shooter.
“I had ran in, thinking [Beigel] was behind me, but he was not … I heard the gunshots, and I heard the shooter walk down the hallway,” Friend said. “When we were all piled up by the desk … my friend said, '[Beigel] is not moving. He is laying in the doorway.'”
In a tearful, on-air interview with CNN, Friend said that Beigel saved her life and specifically addressed his family, saying Beigel was a great person.
“Mr. Beigel was my hero and he still will forever be my hero,” she said. “I will never forget the actions that he took for me and for the fellow students of the classroom … I am alive today because of him.”
Other students and community members shared their condolences for Beigel on social media. “I have said RIP too many times in the past 24 hours but RIP coach Beagle [sic],” one Twitter user named Chad Williams wrote. “You are a king and heaven got a good one. rest easy.”
Feis, an assistant football coach and campus monitor at the school, also died protecting students. The school said Feis was shot and killed after jumping in front of students to protect them from the shooter.
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel praised Feis in a press conference Thursday, saying he was incredibly beloved by Douglas High and the entire community.
“I know Aaron personally. I coached with him, my two boys played for him,” Israel said. “I don’t know when Aaron’s funeral is. I don’t know how many adults will go, but you will get 2,000 kids there. The kids in this community adored him … he was a phenomenal man … when Aaron Feis died, when he was killed tragically and inhumanely, he did it protecting others. You can guarantee that. That's who Aaron Feis was.”
The Douglas football team wrote about the late coach on their Twitter account Thursday, saying Feis “selflessly shielded students from the shooter when he was shot.”
“He died a hero,” the tweet said. “And he will forever be in our hearts and memories.”
Charlie Rothkopf, a student and football player at Douglas, also tweeted about Feis Wednesday. “Can everyone please take a second to pray for my coach today,” Rothkopf wrote. “He took several bullets covering other students at Douglas.”